Gender studies is mostly definitely not my field but there is something about the characters in StarCraft2 that goes well beyond cliched representations of masculinity in games like Grand Theft Auto and Medal of Honour, and I think it has something to do with the Power Armour. Humans are frail terrestrial creatures not suited to the harsh environments that makes the StarCraft single player campaign so interesting: derelict space stations, magma planets, firestorms, etc. Unlike the Power Armour of the imperial Knightly orders of the Game’s Workshop’s Warhammer 40K Space Marines, the Star Craft marines suits are not ancient legendary artefacts hardwired into the human biology, but a cross between spacesuits and body armour. All but one of the characters in Starcraft 2 can remove their suits, the convict Tychus being the exception. The male lead of the story, Jim Raynor, is rarely seen in suit during cutscenes, and his in-game avatar reveals little of his own suit – until the close of the campaign – but his homicidal compadre Tychus is locked in his Power Armour for the duration. Encased there by the games central foe Arcturus Mensk, suggesting that the suits are not sanctuaries of protection in combat, but prisons of war. Tychus’s armour is even adorned with the “bomber girl” artwork of World War 2 fighter bombers, connecting the suit to a traditional of adorning the vehicles of war, conquest, exploration and objectification that is thousand of years old.
In order to compete against the biological infestation of the alien Zerg, and the brutality techno-spirituality of the equally alien Protoss, and the devastation of galactic civil war, the men of Starcraft must done the Power Armour. Women are seen as love interests for Raynor in the narrative of the campaign and support units in the Starcraft 2 battlefields. Women can be medics with their streamlined non-combat suits and they do get to be Banshee pilots, but you can form your own thoughts about the how they are represented by the in-game avatars. Even the central love interest Kerrigan, as the terrifying Zerg-hybrid Queen-of-Blades, is rescued by Raynor, and rendered helpless and naked at the close of the campaign – (SPOILER ALERT) – Raynor has to protect Kerrigan, against Tychus as he is offered a full pardon and release from his suit by Mensk to assassinate Kerrigan. Raynor must choose between his best friend, to whom he owes his life, and Kerrigan to whom he devotes his heart – did I mention that the campaign narrative was trite, melodramatic and overblown, well it is but it’s also fun, although it hasn’t offered the replay attraction that I first thought it might.
Hypermasculinity is a term that enters the lexicon from pyschology, and refers to behaviours associated with features of the male biology and historical, social and cultural tropes and stereotypical of male behaviour, attitudes and roles. Tychus’s endless and overt aggression in Starcraft2 is a good example of hypermasculinity, as is Raynor’s whiskey drinking, women lovin’, cowboy routine. It makes the melodrama of the narrative campaign irritating, and it reduces the already limited empathy for these characters during in game action. As I mentioned my familiarity with gender studies arguments is pretty limited, but the post from Atomic PC magazine, titled ‘Top five reasons Starcraft and Firefly share the same world‘ got me thinking about the different ways gender is framed in these similar science fiction universes, and why they very much do not share the same world (apart from the fact there are no aliens in the Firefly universe).
The various archetypes in Firefly, the cowboy, the preacher, the mercenary, the doctor, are variously hypermasculised, but it is their relationships with the women in the universe that sets it apart from Starcraft – there is room to be fallable, to fail, to be rescued, saved, redeemed and even weak, but Starcraft2 offers none of this parity. The men and women of Starcraft are bland, their stories are compacted stereotypes and the narrative obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the game and I very much enjoyed the single player campaign but it is the real time strategy (RTS) equivalent of Twilight and Barbie, and if I have to listen to Raynor telling me to man up one more time I’m going to send his arse into a nest of Zerg and leave him there.